Eikev 5777

Order matters[1]

בעת ההוא אמר יקוק אלי פסל-לך שני-לוחת אבנים כראשנים ועלה אלי ההרה ועשית לך ארון עץ: ואעש ארון עצי שטים ואפסל שני-לחת אבנים כראשנים ואעל ההרה ושני הלחת בידי
At that time Hashem said to me: “Carve for yourself two stone tablets, like the first ones [that you broke], and come up to Me to the mountain and make for yourself a wooden Ark. I [then] made an Ark of Shittim-wood, and I carved two stone tablets like the first ones; I went up to the mountain and the two tablets were in my hand[2]

In this week’s parsha, Moshe continues his rebuke of the people. He reminded them of their sin with the Golden Calf[3], and all the events that happened afterwards. In his fury at their betrayal, Moshe broke the stone tablets which had the Ten Commandments engraved on them. Moshe then had to plead with Hashem that He not destroy the people. After receiving forgiveness, Hashem commanded Moshe to make new stone tablets to replace the ones that were smashed. He then told Moshe to create a temporary[4] wooden Ark to store them in, until the golden Ark would be created. However, a careful reading of the verses shows Moshe didn’t exactly follow these instructions.

Rashi points out[5] that Moshe deviated from Hashem’s instructions to make the tablets first, and then the ark second. Moshe, as the verses describe, first made the ark, and only then carved the tablets[6]. Why did he do this? Moshe felt it was more logical to create the ark first. If he didn’t have an ark, where would he be able to put the tablets[7]? While this argument makes sense, how could Moshe deviate from what Hashem said[8]? Or, a corollary question, why did Hashem order Moshe this way? Shouldn’t He have commanded the more logical order? A possible clue can be uncovered from a similar dispute that has appeared in the Torah before.

When Hashem first commanded the construction of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, He commanded Moshe to create it first and only then create the various vessels that would go inside it[9]. This included the Golden Ark, the Menorah, the Altar, among others. Hashem appointed Betzalel, Miriam’s great-grandson, to be in charge of the actual craftsmanship involved in the creation of the Mishkan and its vessels[10]. Moshe decided to command Betzalel to first create the vessels, and then create the Mishkan structure[11]. Betzalel argued that it made more sense to make the Mishkan first, and only then make the vessels. The way of the world is to build a house first, and afterwards build the furniture. Moshe agreed, pointing out that this is in fact what Hashem originally commanded[12].

We see from this story the greatness of Moshe. Although Moshe felt it was better to make the vessels first[13], he conceded to Betzalel’s logic. Moshe was the greatest prophet of all time[14], and Betzalel was his little[15] great-great-nephew. Nevertheless, he took his opinion seriously. Not only that, but Moshe even integrated this way of thinking into his own[16]. When a command came from Hashem that seemed similar to Moshe’s original plan, to create the tablets first, Moshe made the ark first. He felt Betzalel’s logic made more sense, and followed it. This shows that Moshe was truly the humblest person to live[17].

Why then did Hashem command something seemingly illogical? Betzalel’s line of reasoning had a point: how can you build the furniture before you make a place to put it? Some say[18] that Hashem wasn’t telling Moshe the order of construction. Rather, He was simply mentioning the more important of the two first. The tablets represented the covenant between Hashem and the Jews[19]. The Ark was simply the storage container for them. However, some suggest[20] a different approach.

When the Jews created the Golden Calf, it was as if they had destroyed their relationship with Hashem. Moshe demonstrated this by smashing the original tablets, the symbol for this relationship. Even though Hashem had said He had forgiven the Jews’ betrayal, there wasn’t yet an indication that there was complete forgiveness. A new set of tablets would have alleviated any worries. Because of Hashem’s intense love for His people, He couldn’t (so to speak) wait to command the creation of the new tablets. We see just how intense this love is, from the fact that Hashem couldn’t hold back the few seconds it would have taken to command the creation of the ark first. This is something we should try to keep in mind, no matter what situation we find ourselves in. This is just a small example that shows Hashem truly loves each and every one of us.

Good Shabbos.

[1] Based on my own research on the parsha

[2] Deuteronomy 10:1,3

[3] Exodus Chapter 32

[4] Rashi to Deuteronomy 10:1; cf. Ramban. See also note 16

[5] loc. cit.

[6] A careful reading will show that Moshe made a second deviation. Hashem said (1) Carve two tablets (2) Go up to the mountain (3) Make an ark. Moshe did (3), then (1), and only then (2). See note 8 regarding why he went up to the mountain only at the end

[7] Midrash Tanchuma Eikev § 10

[8] See Chasam Sofer’s Derashos II pg. 384c who gives an interesting explanation for this question. He also explains the inconsistency with the order of when Moshe went up the mountain and made the ark

[9] Tosafos to Berachos 55a s.v. לך אמור point out that even though the Torah in parshas Terumah describes the commands to create the vessels first, we see in Exodus 31:7 that the Torah describes the command to make the tent of the Mishkan first and only then the vessels

[10] Exodus 31:2

[11] Rashi to Exodus 38:22 citing Berachos loc. cit. The Ritvah ad. loc. suggests this is evident from the fact that parshas Terumah describes the creation of the vessels first. Chazal understood that this was own Moshe’s doing. The Ritvah suggests that perhaps Moshe switched the order in order to test Betzalel. However, see note 13. Also, see other explanations given by the Pnei Yehoshua ad. loc.

[12] The gemarra notes that this is why he was called Betzalel, which means in the shade of Hashem. Betzalel’s understanding of Hashem’s will was so great it was as if he was standing in Hashem’s shade when He commanded Moshe regarding the Mishkan

[13] Gur Aryeh to Exodus loc. cit. § 5 explains that Moshe felt it was more fitting to start with what is primary, meaning the vessels, instead of the secondary structure that contains them. In Rav Hartman’s commentary to Gur Aryeh to Deuteronomy 10:1 fn. 3 he simply concedes that this isn’t consistent with Moshe’s attitude in our parsha. See also Pnei Yehoshua loc. cit.

[14] Deuteronomy 34:10

[15] Sanhedrin 69b says that Betzalel was only thirteen years old at the time he made the Mishkan. The point is even stronger according to Tosafos to 69a s.v. בידוע שאין לו גואלים who say that the gemarra means he was at most 13

[16] This assumes that Moshe carved the second set of tablets after his dialogue with Betzalel. However, Rashi to Exodus 31:18 understands that the whole story of the Mishkan occurred after the sin of the Golden Calf. As a result, Moshe carved the second set of tablets before the command for the Mishkan was given. Ramban to Exodus 25:2, while disagreeing with Rashi when the command was given, agrees it was only created after the sin of the Golden Calf (see http://tanach.org/shmot/truma/trumas1.htm). It’s not clear according to him when the dialogue with Betzalel occurred: before or after the Golden Calf. A definite opinion that the dialogue with Betzalel occurred first is found in the Zohar II pg. 224a. It teaches that the command, donations, and construction for the Mishkan occurred before the sin of the Golden Calf. According to this we can say that Moshe learned from his conversation with Betzalel and implemented it in the future. See Pnei Yehoshua loc. cit. who says that Moshe also learned the principle of ma’alin bakodesh v’ein moridin, we go up in sanctity and not down, from Betzalel

[17] Numbers 12:3

[18] Gur Aryeh to Deuteronomy loc. cit. § 1

[19] Deuteronomy 9:11

[20] Biur HaAmarim to Midrash Tanchumah loc. cit., written by Rav Avraham Meir Roizin